Tag Archives: Whistorical

2015 in Review

With the turning of the calendars, like many, we find ourselves reflecting on the year just passed. In many ways 2015 was the museum’s most successful year yet, and we have much to be thankful for.

We had another strong year for our events and programming. In addition to established favourites like our Valley of Dreams walking tours (June through August), Speaker Series events, multiple children’s crafts events, our annual LEGO competitions, and a bunch of school field trip visits, we launched a new program, Discover Nature.

A tiny Western Toad, as seen during the annual migration. Visitors learned all about these toads and other natural wonders at our Discover Nature booth at Lost Lake.

A tiny Western Toad, as seen during the annual migration. Visitors learned all about these toads and other natural wonders at our Discover Nature booth at Lost Lake.

Conceived in partnership with the Whistler Naturalists and the Whistler Biodiversity Project, Discover Nature featured a manned booth in Lost Lake Park all summer, with interactive natural history displays and scheduled interpretive nature walks. We also produced a 15-page accompanying children’s activity book to encourage further learning about our awesome natural surroundings. We look forward to the return of Discover Nature in the summer of 2016.

In terms of general admission, 2015 was our busiest year ever. Furthermore, we managed to squeak by the huge milestone of 10,000 total visitors, not including special events, a few minutes after noon on December 31st! This no doubt has much to do with changing our admissions from a set fee to by donation, as we increased our visitorship by over 50% from last year, but overall admissions revenues experienced a big leap as well.

Having limited physical space for our exhibits, we have to rely heavily on our web presence and social media to help share our stories. We experienced a banner year online as well.

Our Whistorical blog had its busiest year ever coming in just shy of 30,000 views, finishing strong with our two busiest months ever in November and December. Within a week or two we should surpass 100,000 all-time views since we began blogging in May 2011.

The original Red Chair, ca 1970s. Our most popular new blog post of 2015 was a detailed history of all Whistler's ski lifts.

The original Red Chair, ca 1970s. Our most popular new blog post of 2015 was a detailed history of all Whistler’s ski lifts.

Facebook activity has also been at an all-time high, and we managed to attract our 1,000th follower on Christmas Day. Twitter and Instagram continue to be popular and helpful tools for us to share stories, images, news, and events.

And lastly, in September we launched a new online photo gallery and e-commerce website hosted through Smugmug (whistlermuseum.smugmug.com). So far it has been more successful than we even hoped, with more than 450,000 image views in its first four months alone!

Our most popular photo, a classic image of Franz Wilhelmsen and an unidentified friend enjoying a gorgeous spring day in the Whistler alpine, received over 2000 individual views:

ARCHIVE WMA_P89_0001B_WMSC

Looking forward to 2016 we plan on using all these media to keep pumping out stories, but we’re also excited to announce some new projects.

First off, we will be launching a new feature in partnership with Mountain FM called Whistler Heritage Minutes. We will be producing a series of short audio clips telling cool stories, facts and other interesting anecdotes about Whistler’s past, to be aired weekly.

And for those who want even more history content in audio form we will be launching our own in-house podcast this month as well. We’ve got an amazing and ever-growing library of audio recordings from oral histories interviews, Speaker Series events and more that we can draw from, and we can’t wait to get them out there to be heard.

A big thank you to everyone who visited our exhibits, attended our events, read our stories, and otherwise helped spread the word about Whistler’s fascinating heritage. We look forward to seeing you in the new year, and to all the new stories that will be shared.

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Exploring Parkhurst, Whistler’s “ghost town”

If you hike into the former site of Parkhurst on Green Lake today, you will find a few falling-down log cabins, and some rusted pieces of machinery that barely hint at its past as a booming logging community. There are also some more recent relics, including a once-white corvette with red leather seats, left behind by those that squatted at the site in the 1970s.

In November, Sarah Drewery, the Museum Collection Manager, interviewed Norm Barr, whose parents owned Parkhurst Mill from 1926-1930 and then stayed on to manage it until 1938. Although he was born in 1932, and was just six years old when they moved on to Brackendale, he was able to provide some interesting pieces of information to help fill out the story of the mill and settlement at Parkhurst.

Norm Barr and neighbor Jack Findlay in 1936

Alison and Ross Barr were married in 1923, and lived in Mission, where Ross and his brothers William and Malcolm were running the Barr Brothers’ Logging Company. When they ran out of available timber, they began looking for suitable property elsewhere. Initially, they went to Vancouver Island, but ultimately found there was more potential in the area around Green Lake.

As luck would have it, there was a prime piece of land available right on Green Lake – the property had a point jutting out into the water, making it a perfect location for a steam-operated mill. This land belonged to the Parkhursts, who pre-empted the property in 1902. When Mr. Parkhurst passed away, Mrs. Parkhurst put it up for sale, along with the small log house they had built on the point. In 1926, it was purchased by the Barrs, who got to work building a mill and a camp for workers (including both bunkhouses and a few family homes).

When the mill opened, they named it after the former landowners. It had three crews, with the total number of workers fluctuating between 60 and 70. Due to the snow, the mill had to close from two to five months of the year, resulting in seasonal work for the crews. Workers came from Vancouver and elsewhere, but most stayed only temporarily.

Logging operation at Parkhurst, late 1920s. This photograph shows a railcar, a spar tree and the steam donkey. The man standing on a log in the foreground is Ross Barr.

The Barr’s Parkhurst Mill was a very successful business, shipping lumber as far away as Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. However, when the Great Depression hit, the price of lumber plummeted, making it impossible to cover the cost of transport. In 1930, the business went into receivership. According to Norm, the receiver hired Ross and Alison to remain on as watchmen while he worked to get the property sold. They were able to stay living in the house, but all they got for their work was $50 a month and a barrel of coal oil to burn for their lamps.

They were the only ones that stayed. All of the crew members left immediately, hoping to secure other work at a time when jobs were extremely scarce. As for the Barr brothers, Malcolm had met an unfortunate end in 1928 when he fell off of the boat they used to pull logs around into Green Lake and drowned. William moved to Vancouver when the business went under, worked some odd jobs, and got married.

In 1932, the operation was sold to Byron Smith and B.C. Keeley, and it was renamed Northern Mills. The Barrs remained on as managers of the thriving company until a spectacular fire burnt the mill to the ground in June of 1938. Although the mill was rebuilt and eventually reopened, the Barrs had moved south to Squamish by November of that year.

Immediately following the fire, what remained of the mill itself was moved to a site at the north end of Lost Lake. This was a somewhat shortsighted maneuver, and after 1939 it was moved back to Parkhurst, since the location next to the railway was significantly more convenient. The new mill was as big as the original one, and the settlement grew with more family homes added, a small store, and eventually a school. The mill operated until the 1950s.

If you want to get a glimpse of the past, we recommend paddling a canoe across Green Lake and spending some time exploring – while you’re there, imagine what it was like when the mill was operational. For more details on the later years of the mill, see the article “Family Life at Parkhurst Mill” here.